Lander & Rogers' Practice Group Leader - Consulting, shares tips for becoming a mindful lawyer.
So, you are keen to join the league of extraordinary mindful lawyers; to experience the peaceful haze of self-compassion from which you can simultaneously exude empathy for your family and your clients, synthesise disparate ideas and make excellent decisions. You see your friends from consulting firms or Google becoming more mindful by the moment. You have even gone to a few introductory sessions with your friends and lasted a full 15 minutes in a fog of scepticism before questioning the entire empirical premise. You are left wondering how on earth you can quieten this high-performance brain of yours (and whether your friends are as smart as you thought they were). How does our mindful lawyer do it?
She meditates every day. I know, I know you are busy and important. You do important things at all hours of the day and night. Important clients need access to your importance at all times. Finding time to do anything other than work and binge-watching Netflix is difficult. Finding time to sit still with your eyes closed observing your thoughts seems ludicrous. I understand that when you start to negotiate with me in a session you are merely verbalising the debate that has been raging in your head since you entered the room: “If he says I have to meditate I’m out of here.” My question for you: if you sit back and look at your life objectively for a moment how important are you to you? What do you need in order to flourish? How well do you really know you? These are difficult questions for us to answer unless we develop a different relationship with ourselves. This is the real gift of mindfulness practice but also its greatest challenge. It requires patience, curiosity and the daily choice to practice: red pill or blue pill?
He values his meditation above all else. Sure he goes to the gym, he goes out with friends, he spends quality time with his family and he works very hard. These are all important to his wellbeing and sense of achievement but no matter how crazy things get he never misses his daily mindfulness meditation. He protects his practice by doing it when his family are not awake and by telling his work colleagues without apology that “I am going to meditate for a while now”. He is opportunistic in his practice by doing it in airline lounges, on trams, in lifts (but not while bicycling or operating heavy machinery). This is his time, his sanctuary, his bliss. He is not as good without it, so why be anything less than his best?
She doesn’t feel like she needs to be good at meditating to keep doing it. She approaches each practice as if it is the first time she has done it. She is compassionate with herself when her mind wanders to thoughts. She does not judge herself when she is constantly distracted by feelings. She merely stands up, walks away and comes back tomorrow. The Buddhists refer to this as the “beginners mind”. It is one of the most difficult things for us westerners to get our head around. “How do I know I am doing it right?” “If I’m going to sign up to this mediation caper I want to be the best mediator I can.” “Is there a world championships for mindfulness meditation?” Mindfulness practice is full of paradoxes and this is a big one: in order to become the true observer of yourself you have to first let go of any aspiration to do so. Too much?
Ok, as I am not a celebrity peddling dodgy dietary advice I feel like I should share some empirical evidence supporting my assertions. Here is what the science has to say about mindfulness meditation:
- You will experience the profound benefits of mindfulness if you do as little as 20-30 minutes of meditation per day (you see how I did that, just like the barista at your coffee shop telling you that for only $8 you can enjoy a cup of coffee and a muffin). I can already hear you asking: if I can only manage 10 minutes will that help? Absolutely. What if I can only do 5 minutes? Then do it. Those scientists with their randomised controlled trials could just be overstating it.
- You will have a much better chance of embedding the practice into your life if you start by doing a course with an experienced mindfulness teacher and other people who are curious to learn.
- The course should last at least 6 weeks and involve both group sessions and individual practice. You should attend all the sessions and do all the homework, then assess whether or not you notice any benefits.
I don’t mean to play down the difficulty of all this. Mindfulness practice is at once the simplest and most difficult thing you will do. The benefits are well documented but take time to emerge. You should expect at least a couple of “failures to launch” before you can confidently announce at a dinner party that “I’m a meditator”.
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